Album Review: Prince, “Purple Rain” (1984)

I grew up listening to Prince‘s music. My mom was a huge fan, and I distinctly recall weekend mornings spent cleaning the house while one of his LPs played on her record player. I suppose not everyone appreciates Prince’s music or his vocal styling (really, I’m appalled that the last two reviews of this album called it “overrated”- are you kidding me?!), but I’ve always been a fan.

The Purple Rain Soundtrack (released in 1984- damn, nearly 30 years ago!) is classic Prince. The album is an accompaniment for the film of the same name, also released in ’84. The film is a bit of a cult classic, mostly due to the fact that Prince isn’t a great actor (okay, he’s pretty horrible…c’mon that scene where he gets slapped? Horrendous!), but I’ve always enjoyed it because of the concert scenes. Of course, if you just want to forgo the film and skip straight to the music, you can purchase the Purple Rain soundtrack. The disc is short (only nine tracks), but features some of Prince’s most recognizable and best works.

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life…” echoes Prince in the opening lines of Let’s Go Crazy. Right from the funeral-esque eulogy in the opening (there’s even an organ), you know you’re in store for a rock epic, and the rest of the song delivers. This is a true rock song: there’s loud electric guitar, pounding drums, and plenty of flashy synthesizers. Prince shouts his way through the choruses in his distinctive falsetto, making for an exciting start to the album.

There’s plenty of other rock-heavy dance tracks on this album. I Would Die 4 U is easily one of my favourite Prince songs. Right from the opening hand claps and dizzying synth, this song makes me want to dance, and I keep dancing right on through the energetic verses and catchy chorus (“You!/I would die 4 u!/Darling, if you want me too/You!/I would die 4 u!”). This track is basically the quintessential 80’s rock/pop song and it still holds up today.

Baby I’m A Star continues on with the fun, as another danceable funk track. Prince’s cocky persona is on full display here during the opening verse (“Hey, look me over/Tell me do you like what u see?/Hey, I ain’t got no money/But honey I’m rich on personality”), but you’ve got to give him some credit- anyone capable of making a song this funky and catchy is a star in my book. Meanwhile, Computer Blue features a risqué opening from Revolution members, Wendy & Lisa ), before fading into a rock jam with more electric guitar and keyboards. This song has “80’s” written all over it, especially during the extended musical break with the keyboard/synthesizer solo. I’ve never been a huge fan of this song, but that’s more due to personal preference- it’s certainly another good track.

The most outrageous of all the songs is easily Darling Nikki, though again, the track is a favourite of mine. Prince sets the mood right from the opening verse as he purrs, “I knew a girl named Nikki, I guess you could say she was a sex fiend. I met her in a hotel lobby masturbating with a magazine…” Sung over a deliberately slow, seductive beat (just composed of drums and electric guitar), the sexually explicit song garnered a lot of attention and even led to the album being slapped with a Parental Advisory label, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying it. This song has some of the best guitar work on the album, and Prince turns in a sensual delivery, screaming and yelping his way during the last minutes of the song in the amazing way that only Prince can.

Prince with MadCat, Coachella 2008

Not everything on the album is a dance track, though. Take Me With U is a mid-tempo duet with Apollonia, Prince’s muse/ex-girlfriend/co-star. This is a love song and the lyrics convey the mood perfectly (“I don’t care if we spend the night at your mansion/I don’t care if we spend the night on the town/All I want is to spend the night together/All I want is to spend the night in your arms”), while Prince and Apollonia’s vocals compliment each other nicely. The Beautiful Ones is another love song, though this time the topic is of unrequited love. I think this is one of the most beautiful songs, ever. The music is simplistic- just keyboards, synth and drums- as are the lyrics (“You were so hard to find/The beautiful ones, they hurt you every time…”), but the real focus here is Prince’s vocals. He sings this song as though he’s truly feeling the pain of heartbreak and rejection, and every inflection of his voice reflects the pain.  By the time he reaches the end of his plea (“Do you want him? Or do you want me? ‘Cause I want you!”), you can’t help but get caught up in the feeling of the song and if you’ve ever experienced a similar heartbreak, you’ll have no problem sympathizing with his pain.

When Doves Cry is classic Prince; the down-tempo number is one of his best-selling singles and proved to be a huge hit when released from the album. The track is composed of guitar and a drum machine, but lacks a bass line, giving off a stark, industrial feeling. Lyrically, the song tells the story of a twisted relationship (“How can you just leave me standing?/Alone in a world that’s so cold?/Maybe I’m just too demanding/Maybe I’m just like my father, too bold/Maybe you’re just like my mother/She’s never satisfied/Why do we scream at each other/This is what it sounds like/When doves cry”), and though I’m still a little confused about what it actually does sound like when doves cry (has anyone actually ever heard a dove cry?  I haven’t…), I have to admit that this is one of Prince’s best songs.

Of course, the Purple Rain soundtrack wouldn’t be what it is without its iconic title track. Purple Rain aptly closes the album and still stands as one of Prince’s signature songs. The 8-minute epic is a rock ballad, with plenty of electric guitar, strings and organ. This is another example of Prince offering up a powerful vocal delivery; again, he sings this track with seemingly every ounce of emotion he can muster, and the result is a beautiful, gut-wrenching ballad about love and heartbreak. The extended version on the album includes a guitar solo and while the whole eight minutes aren’t entirely necessary, it’s still nice to sit back and listen to the full song in all its epic rock/gospel-inspired glory.

Purple Rain is a classic pop/rock album. Prince is such a talented musician, songwriter and singer, which is easily apparent on this album. There’s not a single song you’ll want to skip, and the music is so varied- from poppy dance tracks and sultry numbers, to power ballads- that there’s something for any kind.

Rating: 5 stars

Track List
1. Let’s Go Crazy
2. Take Me With U
3. The Beautiful Ones
4. Computer Blue
5. Darling Nikki
6. When Doves Cry
7. I Would Die 4 U
8. Baby I’m A Star
9. Purple Rain

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